Following a recommendation from Secretary of State Jim Mattis, the Trump administration approved limits on the service of transgender individuals serving in the military, citing a drop in unit cohesion as a source of concern.
The policy, which allows transgender troops currently serving to keep their posts, bars any more transgender people from registering in the military. It also requires transgender people currently serving in the military to take on roles geared towards their genders at birth rather than the gender that they identify as.
This policy is the result of seven months of the Trump administration attempting to ban transgender individuals from serving in the military. The decision comes after similar attempts at limiting transgender individuals, issued last July, were deemed to be unconstitutional by a Washington D.C. district court judge.
Trump announced the July policy changes over Twitter, saying that “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
This was part of an attempt to settle a debate about whether or not transgender individuals serving in the military would have their gender transitions and hormone therapies paid for by taxpayers.
A 2016 study by the RAND corporation found that allowing transgender troops to serve would have “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.” Mattis disagreed, claiming that the RAND study was “heavily caveated data to support its conclusions, glossed over the impacts of health care costs, readiness, and unit cohesion, and erroneously relied on the selective experiences of foreign militaries with different operational requirements than our own.”
Aaron Belkon, director of Palm Center which studies sexuality and the military, pointed out in a press conference that Mattis’s concerns over a breakdown in unit cohesion are without substantiation. Trump, however, sided with Mattis in his decision.
One question that no one in the current administration seems to be able to answer is what will happen to transgender individuals currently on active duty. This might be up to the Pentagon who has a large degree of freedom on such decisions. In a statement, Pentagon representatives said that they would “continue to assess and retain transgendered service members”.
The backlash from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been severe, with many decrying the decision as extremely transphobic. According to an ACLU memo, the policy “effectively coerces transgender people who wish to serve into choosing between their humanity and their country, and makes it clear that transgender people are not welcome.”
“What the White House has released tonight is transphobia masquerading as policy,” said Joshua Block, the senior staff lawyer for the ACLU LGBT and HIV, in a statement.
While it is probable that these measures will again be blocked by a court ruling, the Trump administration will surely keep fighting this battle, becoming mired in yet another highly controversial issue.